So here it is, the first installment, written some years ago.
There is no statement here. What follows are simply the memories of events as they happened by one man only. I make no apologies for errors through memory or misunderstanding. This is simply my perception of what happened, from start to finish.
All of it. Nothing more, nothing less. I call it simply:
CHAPTER ONE: The Call to Arms
Strangely enough, my whole Gulf experience begins, if you’ll believe it, in Canada. That’s where I was when I first heard that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Now, I had heard of these two far away countries, but I didn’t have a real clue where they were.
We had just come in off the prairie at the end of a Medicine man Exercise in BATUS, Alberta Canada. I was soon to be 28, a Cpl MILAN Detachment Commander (DC), in 3 Section of 1 RGJ’s Anti-Tank Platoon. It was early September and I vividly remember Rich, Richard Ciereszko formerly the other DC in my Section, talking to CSgt Tony ‘Spook’ Finnigan the Pl 2i/c. They had got hold of a newspaper, or one of them had seen one, and they were talking about the invasion.
I was more worried about getting back to Osnabruck, Germany where the Battalion was based. I had gone to Canada on the pre-advance party on pretty short notice. The Section commander, Billy Billison was meant to go, but he had a compassionate problem come up, which meant I, being the senior DC in the Section at the time, had to go in his place and conduct the take over of Section vehicles & equipment etc. I had gone fairly happily, as the Platoon Commander, Captain Simon Plummer had promised that he would try to get me back on the first flight. True to his word, I was flying home within a couple of days of coming off the prairie. I remember chatting with Tony Finnigan about what he wanted me to do once I was back in Osnabruck. I asked him if he wanted me to meet the other flights as they came in or something.
He told me that all I should do is go home, and that he’d see me on the next Tuesday, once everybody was back. That gave me about a week and a half off. Happy with that, I packed my stuff and departed BATUS and Canada for the fourth, and to date, last time.
Once back in Osnabruck things were good. It was a new month, the money was in the bank and as I had been away for nearly a month, there was still a lot of last month’s money left. I decided that Elaine, Elaine Tyson my wife and I should make the most of the opportunity and get away for a long weekend. She took some time off work, I bought a tent, and off we went to Austria for four days. We had a completely brilliant time, and as it turned out, it was just as well we did get away. It was going to be a while before we would go away together again.
We had hardly settled into the routine again at work when the full scale of what was going on in Kuwait became clearer. I remember sitting in my quarter in Belm, just outside Osnabruck watching the news. The events in Kuwait were the headlines again that day. I hadn’t realised what a habit I had developed watching the news until Elaine asked me, rather irritatedly, what was so important about what was happening so far away. I remember being a little short with her as I explained that this could well be the lead up to World War Three! I was conscious of the fact that I was beginning to get a little scared.
Only days later on Friday 14th September, the C.O. Lt Col Simon Stanford-Tuck, called the Battalion together on the square. He explained that the Gulf was becoming a grave concern to the government and that to support the Americans who were already sending troops to the region, Cabinet was sitting, this very day, discussing how best to lend support. If I remember correctly, air and sea support was already on the way. Cabinet’s discussion was to decide what formation of land force was to be sent.
The C.O. explained that Cabinet were considering three options. One of these was to send an entire Artillery Regiment, which would mean nothing serious to us, as yet. Another option was to send a Cavalry (Recce) regiment. If this were to happen, then they would require infantry support. This would come in the form of C Coy 1RGJ, with all its attached elements. As I’ve said before, we were 3 Section of the Anti-Tank Platoon, so if C Coy went, we were going too! The final option was that of sending 7 Armoured Brigade from Fallingbostel. The C.O. told us that this was the most likely, but that we should relax in camp, and as soon as he had news, he would call the Battalion together again to share it.
It was an uncomfortable day. We spent it bouncing around between stores, offices and the NAAFI. Finally, late in the afternoon, the Battalion was gathered again on the square. The C.O. told us that 7 Armoured Brigade had indeed been chosen to go as the bulk of the British contingent. He also explained that as with any formation, within 7 Armd Bde, and indeed 1 Stafford’s, there would be equipment on demand or in workshops, that would need rapidly replacing.
He suggested that some of their replacements might well be sought from us. He further stated that as each formation or Battalion etc. would be below their established manning strengths, as were we, that certain reinforcements may well be called for in due course. We went home that evening with no small amount of brow wiping going on.
Saturday night was a good night. Elaine and I had been invited out to John and Toni Bryan’s flat for drinks. Andy and Bev Czyz (another CZ) were also there. John was Support Company’s clerk at the time and Andy was a Sgt in the Recce Pl, so it was a good Support Coy session.
The main topic of conversation between us guys was of course the events of the previous day. John turned his telly onto BFG teletext. It was normally BBC’s Ceefax, with attached BFG (British Forces Germany) information pages. Tonight however it had completely changed. There was page after page of stores demands. The unit’s to be deployed, as stated by the Colonel, were understandably short of various equipment’s, both for use and spares.
The demands for these equipments were now plastered all over BFG teletext. Units were only identified by their UIN’s (Unit Identification Numbers), and the equipment’s required were specified by NSN (NATO Stock Number) only. I knew very little about NSN’s, but John, who had previously worked in the Tech QM’s department, informed us that NSN’s with particular starting digits were weapons or weapon parts.
Another, perhaps shameful part of the evening was a period where we were joking with each other about the effects on people who were told “You’re going”. It was drink fuelled harmless squaddy banter. It meant nothing, and we meant nothing by it, but by heck it was to come back and haunt me.
The next morning (Sunday) began well. I wandered over to the YMCA paper shop, collected the Sunday papers, and quite possibly a choggy bar for Elaine and me to munch on prior to lunch. I had just got back and sat down to have a read. It was about 10 or 11AM, I don’t really remember, but I was dead happy, as my team Arsenal had trounced Chelsea 4 – 1 the previous day. In fact I had just got to the feature on the match and turned the paper back on itself to read it, when the doorbell rang.
Elaine answered the door. It was John. She invited him in and he told me I was needed in camp. I’m pretty sure they were his exact words. I put the paper down and grabbed my keys from the coffee table. My assumption was that a demand had come through from 7 Armoured Brigade, and more specifically the Staffordshire regiment, for MILAN Firing Posts or associated equipment’s, and that bodies were needed in camp to assist moving and sending them. Always one to help in a time of crisis, I was more than happy to do my bit. Just to confirm why I was needed I asked John what it was about.
You’ve probably already guessed what he said!
I looked at him, hoping he was joking with me, but I knew immediately by the look on his face that he wasn’t. My stomach knotted, and I looked at Elaine. Her face fell apart right there in front of me.
John told me that he’d already been in camp for the best part of the morning. He continued to talk but in all honesty I didn’t hear much of it. My mind was elsewhere. I remember him saying something about decisions that had been made about what personnel were required, who was available, and who, from those available, would go. I told Elaine I’d be back as soon as I could, and I went to work.
Once in camp the facts became slightly clearer. Others were arriving in camp around the same time as me and we were all heading into the Company Office. Somebody, a Cpl who shall remain nameless, was flapping about, saying that he hoped our kit was packed as we were going to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. I think I told him to shut up, I’m not sure, but I knew, or at least I hoped, that we wouldn’t be going that far that quickly.
The new Platoon Commander, formerly Mobile Section Commander, Capt Toby Tennent explained the situation. Basically, a MILAN section was required from the platoon, to join the 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment as their 4th or reserve section. They, like us, had disbanded their fourth section due to manpower shortages.
With one of our own sections now in Canada as part of the Company group detached from the Battalion, the choices became limited. With people away on courses/leave and injured etc, some of those choices were made easily. I don’t remember why, but Billy Billison was the only Section Commander available, so he was going. I was always going to go, as I was the only Detachment Commander with no ties. Of the others, Rich CZ had gone on SASC candidate training and Mac MacFadyen was away on compassionate grounds. Mac was chosen to go and he was called back early. A guy called T.V. Wynter (LCpl), who was just beginning junior Brecon was recalled, and as there were no other LCpl’s available, Ged Gerard Love one of the older, most experienced Riflemen was promoted. Qualified drivers, and those deemed to be the better, and/or more experienced of the remaining Riflemen filled other spaces. There weren’t many available that were left out.
At some time, later that day there was a briefing we all attended, which clarified things for us. The most striking thing I remember about that briefing was the reaction of some of the Riflemen. Especially I remember, two of them from my own Detachment looking to me for support. They were staying near to me, watching me for signs of strength to draw on. I don’t know how I appeared to them, but later when I realised what they had needed, I couldn’t help feeling I had failed them.
I didn’t feel strong, I was scared.
We all went home and began to pack. We were going tomorrow, but only to Fallingbostel to join the Stafford’s. We would receive more information there.
It took too long to pack. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Elaine, but typically of me, I had to go through every single piece of kit I had, to decide if I wanted to take it. Issued kit, non-issued kit, buckshee kit & spare kit. It was all considered then re-considered then chosen or discarded. Then when there was too much, some of it was re-considered again and discarded.
I don’t remember anything about that final night, except the fact I hated it.
The next day saw us assembling as briefed, in Mercer Barracks with all our kit. I remember being marched, or at least moved, (carrying all that kit didn’t exactly lend itself to marching) to the football pitches to the rear of the training wing, opposite the NAAFI by the RSM Bob Maddocks. There were other groups of people already there. Some friends were there from the Battalion, I especially remember Tony Finnigan and Sean Simmonds from the Anti-Tank Platoon among them. Someone explained that one of the groups across the pitch was from the PWO’s (Prince of Wales Own Regiment of Yorkshire), who were the other infantry unit in Osnabruck. Others were REME and chefs from our own unit amongst others.
Smack on ten O’clock by my watch, the unmistakable sound of two Chinooks approaching began to fill the air. They flew in over us and landed on the football pitch side by side with their rear ends towards us. Slowly the rotors slowed and the tailgate’s dropped. Then we were moving towards them with all our stuff. It seemed to take ages to get everything stowed safely and it did in fact take half an hour, but as soon as we had we were taking our seats, strapping ourselves in and listening to the motors warming up again.
As our Chinook took to the sky, I looked at my watch again. It was 10.30. Looking out of the rear I could see the small crowd watching from the side of the football pitch. The only person I could make out amongst them was Sean Simmonds. Suddenly, the whole picture tilted slightly, then as the loadmaster closed the tailgate, and they all disappeared from view, I distinctly remember wondering at that moment, whether I would see any of those people again.
By Fellow Rifleman Bill Tyson.